Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Innocent Lie

I have a bone to pick. You can skip this blog if you're not in the mood. I won't be offended. I think I just need to share with candor, and hopefully gentleness, something that really bothers me.

The Innocent Lie.

I am not speaking of those lies that children try to pass off on their parents. Rather, I am speaking of the lies parents participate in towards their children. And even more specifically, I am speaking of the lies spoken to make childhood myths come alive, and appear real for that season in life when the innocence of children is at its best.

Santa Clause.
Tooth Fairy.
Easter Bunny.

I don't find these innocuous. I am in the minority - at least it appears that way from my many conversations with acquaintances, relatives and friends. I came to think that perhaps I was simply a miser - a glory hog who didn't want to share any of the credit for her hard work with some red-suited, white-whiskered relative stranger who manages to show up when everything is peachy but doesn't stay around long enough to help clean up any of the mess.

It must be me.

But I still couldn't swallow it. I sat down and really thought about what my problem was with these traditions. I realized that the answer is in the fact that children are being lied to, encouraged by their parents (who are entrusted to teach them truth) to falsely believe something they know to be unreal. Okay, so we admit that these imaginary beings aren't real. Where's the harm in letting children use their imaginations to heighten the fun during these few short years?

Hey, let me be the first to say that I love imagination! My children regularly come up with all manner of games that create worlds outside of this one. They are princesses in far distant palaces, flying across the sky on magical beings. Or perhaps they are knights riding into the burning sunset made brilliant by two suns! Multi-colored robes, enchanted wands, and supernatural powers are the norm for a make-believe world worth it's weight in imagination. I happily encourage all these fancies! So, what's the difference between the Easter Bunny and a world filled with talking bunnies who each have their own special power?

I am not lying to them, telling them their talking bunnies are real.

The problem with a lie is that eventually the truth comes out. It always does. Perhaps it takes years rather than a few moments, but in the end... out it comes. And when it does you have broken trust. After all, a lie is a lie. But so many adults have gotten lost in the idea that the adventure of believing that lie is worth the pain and confusion when the truth comes to light.

How can we be so obtuse? I would imagine that my children are not vastly different from others. One of the largest lessons I am constantly working to teach is the value of truth. Lying in our home warrants a double dose of discipline - one for the disobedient action and the other for the lie. Our mantra is, "You will always get into more trouble if you lie." How can I work to train my children to understand the absolute necessity and value of truth if I am engaged in purposely falsifying facts in order to encourage my children to believe something that is a lie? How can my children utterly trust my word as they grow if they know, deep down inside, that I have not always been 100% honest with them?

Lastly, I fear the possible ramifications of these "innocent" lies on the trusting hearts of my children as they walk their own faith journeys. We tell our children that Santa Clause is real, but you can't see him. We tell our children that the Easter Bunny is real, but you can't see him. We tell our children that the Tooth Fairy and leprechauns are real, but you can't see them. We tell our children there is a God who is real, but you can't see him. Then we reveal that Santa Claus is a lie. We share that the Easter Bunny is fake. We finally let our kids in on the truth that the Tooth Fairy and leprechauns were all pretend.

But we somehow want our children to retain the truth that God is still real - He still exists even though everything else they used faith to trust in has been proven false by the very people who should have protected that unique ability to accept truth without jaded reservation. We inadvertently create cynical human beings who have the propensity to eye the world through a subconscious filter of distrust.

Do I exaggerate?

Perhaps not every child becomes disenchanted with the wonder and blessing of seeing the beauty beyond their own empirical observation, but I am unwilling to take the chance. I will not require from my children something I am unwilling to give to them in return.


Monday, December 21, 2009


Christmas is just around the corner. I realized this tonight as I prepare to wrap presents (no chuckling, snorting, finger pointing or comments from the peanut gallery welcomed). This time of year tends to take anyone's breath away with its sheer velocity of opportunistic events. Commitments abound and season's festivities overflow as one invitation after another arrives to join some worthy tradition guaranteed to spark holiday merriment in even the basest of scrooges.

In a word this time of year is: hectic.

In our home it is no different. Well, maybe a little different. After all we have seven little people to usher through the perils of traditions. On top of that we have three birthdays. Did you miss that?

Three Birthdays.

Bethany turns 9 in just a couple of days - December 23rd to be exact. She is planning a sleepover with a friend for the 22nd, and then a family dinner of her choice for the 23rd. She wants buttermilk pancakes for her meal. She happens to think that McDonald's pancakes are the best, and each year on her birthday I am forced to find a way to duplicate this nutritionless wonder of white flour. Mind you, I make pancakes rather often... from fresh milled whole wheat berries, honey, and cinnamon. Yeah.

Next comes Mary, who will be four (my fingers froze for an entire moment after typing that number) on the 27th. Her birthday falls on Sunday, which is usually roast night. She too gets to pick her meal of choice, but roast might be the winner. We happened to have it tonight (we were out of town last night) and she literally ate me under the table. I think she might be a carnivore at heart.

Hannah's birthday finally closes down the year on the 30th. She is going to Valley Fair Shopping Center with me, her best friend and her best friend's mom on the 28th. At nearly 11 the delights of shopping are opening up, and rather than take the booty in gifts she prefers the delights of cash. I can't say I blame her. I have long preferred the known gift of my own choosing over the surprise of someone else's pick. She is also speculating on going out to dinner rather than staying in. She's got good taste.

So, here I sit on the 21st with nearly 10 solid days of festivities before me. I'm pooped just writing about it. But I'll see you on the flip side with some great tales to share!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Star Wars

When you asked Caleb what his favorite movie was he would answer either Star Wars, or Robin Hood. There was nothing terribly shocking in those selections, except that he had never seen Star Wars! Undaunted, as he often is, the truth of Star Wars being one of his most favorite movies simply resonated in his soul, and didn't require the actual viewing for proof.

We finally decided it was time to test his devotion with the real deal.

The first episode he watched was the original Star Wars. I was at book club. He was riveted, my husband tells me, and I definitely heard quite a bit about the story the next day. He even said this to me a few days following:

Mama, can me and you have time to watch a movie, just the two of us?

Sure, Caleb. That would be nice.

We could maybe watch, Star Wars!

The opportunity presented itself sooner than I expected. Christopher took his four older daughters on a date to see, The Princess and The Frog. The afternoon was wide open, Josiah and Phoebe were both sleeping so I suggested that we watch, Empire Strikes Back. Caleb was game.

I am not sure what I enjoyed more - watching a great movie or watching my son watch a great movie. There were several wonderful moments during the 129 minutes, but these are the best three.

1: Nowhere did Caleb need to cover his eyes, shy away from the action, or ask me to fast-forward through one of the many fighting scenes. He watched, with great patience, and interest as Storm Troopers, Rebels, X-Wings, and Star Cruisers duked it out on our television screen. However, there was ONE time he felt compelled to cover his eyes with both hands... when Leia kissed Luke in front of Han after Luke's near death experience on Hoth. "Is it over yet?" he asked.

2: Luke lands on Dagobah and meets the, "cutest little green man" Caleb has ever seen. He chirps, coos, and sighs about the adorable creature, so excited to see the green character on film. Suddenly, he stares wide-eyed at me and proclaims, "THAT'S Yoda!!" Oh, to watch the movie again for the first time.

3: The great moment of truth drew closer, and I sat on the edge of my seat waiting for the moment I knew was coming... and went. Caleb didn't say anything when Darth revealed his identity. I realized quickly that it was because he didn't really understand what was said, so I rewind and coax him through the dialogue, until finally his eyes brighten with the truth. Darth is Luke's father! He literally falls out of his chair and onto the floor in his melodramatic way. Then he sits back up, stares at the screen open-mouthed and says, "So, Luke has to do whatever Darth says, now?" Apparently I have done my job right, and children obeying their parents will last well into his adulthood.

I love it!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Our Backyard

This is probably not breaking news to many of you, but it still surprises me to look out my window and see my new backyard! I am so thrilled with the final results. However, it hasn't always been lovely to stare out my window.

When we first looked at our home there was more potential than actual value. The entire house was run down, in need of some serious love. The backyard was no different. A random paver patio surrounding small fruit trees planted under a clothesline was only one part of the haphazard design. Other gems included a raised butterfly garden shaped, well, like a circle drawn by my 3 year old. The side yard was a mishmash of hard-packed dirt flower beds, widely varied paver styles, and weeds. To say it was ugly would be an understatement. There were two poured concrete patios, one attached directly to the house and one tucked into the back corner of the yard. The second smaller one must have been poured to create a foundation for a shed. This might have been a nice touch, except it was irregularly shaped and sat at odd angles to the fence line. Ugh.

We bought our home as a foreclosure. The money we were saving ourselves from a non-standard sale would be spent caring for the run-down state of the house. Things like refinishing the hardwood floors, replacing all the kitchen appliances, and painting the entire inside of the house were no-brainers. Purchasing a substantially smaller home than we previously lived in meant we had to find living space in every nook, so the backyard was also one of the projects planned from the very beginning, the vision being that it would provide an extension of sorts to the living space inside. However, once the inside of the house was functional the outside got somewhat forgotten.

Josiah was the impetus behind reviewing our project. His boy-ness required constant supervision, and activity. A secured, safe backyard was the only choice to continue enjoying our little boy. We also realized that our decision to home educate meant sacrifices in certain activities that required balance. Physical fitness, and kinesthetic learning were factors we took seriously. We set to work researching play structures, discussing ideas, and refining our vision for the space. Finally we settled upon a design that took into consideration the needs of the yard, our budget, and as much aesthetics as possible.

We found a company called CedarWorks located in Maine. They work with individual families to create play structures that are uniquely designed for their specific needs. Through them we drew plans for a play set sturdy enough for all 7 of our children. Using white cedar, a naturally splinter-free and rot resistance wood, the structure would last through all my children and be available for my grandchildren! This would become the central focus of our yard, and create a wonderful diversion for all our children.

Adding the elements to surround the play structure was our next task. We chose commercial playground quality cedar chips for the base of the play set. Our trampoline was also nestled into the pit made from these chips. A paver path wrapped the house, and bordered the pit so someone could access the far side yard without traipsing through wood chips. We also purchased new large pavers for the other side yard, creating a useable space for storage, and easy accessibility. I desperately wanted something green to look at, so a strip of lawn was added behind the larger concrete patio - the only thing we kept from the original backyard. The final touch was a gift from my mom - her perfectly working 6 person hot tub!

So, we are now complete. I added the photo album on the right side of the blog. Take a peek. And if you are in the neighborhood please drop by. Make sure to bring the kids, and your suits!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

And So It Begins...

I didn't think I would like it as much as I did. I wasn't prepared for the sense of satisfaction, completion, or excitement I felt when it was over. But here I sit, on the other side of 50,000 words, and I can hardly believe it!

I finished my NaNoWriMo project a full week early, pushing out an unheard of (to me, anyway - if you are a cyborg that regularly manages this feat, I don't want to hear it) 10k words in a staggering 5 hours. FIVE HOURS. I wanted to finish while at a NaNoWriMo event called the Night Of Writing Dangerously write-a-thon in San Francisco this past weekend. I thought it would be neat to have my final hurrah happen with other Wrimos. I won't be doing that again (the 10k in 5 hours, not the event). However, I will be writing for NaNoWriMo again.

And what am I going to do with my current manuscript, you ask?

Edit. Edit. Edit.

I can hardly wait to begin. I knew I really enjoyed writing, but I wasn't expecting it to so fully engage my heart. I really love the story I am weaving, learning the characters, and watching as my protagonist did things for which I was utterly unprepared.

Here is my nod to an Acknowledgements page:

Thanks to my wonderful husband, who gave me the time I needed to stick my nose in my laptop... again. My kids were great, giving me inspiration, and laughing at the right parts when I read sections out loud. My parents were a wonderful support, giving me the financial gift of attending the NaNoWriMo write-a-thon. My mom, Jill and Carolyn were the best in sacrificing their schedules to watch my crazy seven children, giving me and Christopher the first 2-night stay away from the kids in 9 years. Birthing a baby doesn't count for that one. Thanks to all my friends who told me I could do it! Especially when I was convinced the story line roughly resembled Dog Chow - Dog Chow being the more appetizing.

And so it begins... the work of turning this burly manuscript into a sleek thing of beauty.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Changing The Layout

Just ignore all the proverbial clutter and dust. I am working on changing the blog, and blundering my way through html, xml, and all manner of other mls. Hopefully, you will soon see something pretty.

Boys. Bricks. Bees.

Before you read any further you MUST watch this video.

Did you watch it? No?

Go. Watch. The. Video.

I own this particular DVD (which has several incredibly humorous skits on it) but I saw this clip on YouTube, first. In fact, I laughed so hard at the, "throw a brick at my head" part that I had to watch it again just to hear everything. I particularly loved it because I have a boy, and he would do something like this! In fact, let me give you a recent example.

This past weekend Bethany came bursting through the door, and announced that she needed my tweezers because Caleb had a bee stinger in his hand.

He has a what?

A bee stinger in his hand. He got stung.

In a few moments Caleb came along, holding his hand out for me to see. Sure enough, stuck into the pad of his palm was not only a stinger but the entire rear end of the bee it had once been attached to.

Umm... wow, Caleb!

Yeah. I know.

Thankfully you aren't allergic to bee stings (we didn't know that before this incident). How on earth did this happen?

Oh, I was catching bees.

blink. blink.

You were what?

I was catching bees.

On purpose?


I was doing this: He made his hands perfectly still, and mimicked holding them next to a flower where a bee sat. Suddenly he cupped his hands together, and showed me, rather triumphantly, his hold on the imaginary bee.

Did you not think you would get a bee sting from this activity?

Caleb looked at me perplexed. I waited for the answer. I figured he was mulling over my profound question, and realizing the foolishness of his behavior. In fact, he was trying to understand how I could be so dull. He decided to explain the obvious:

I didn't get stung the other times I did it.

We will be listening for the whistle of flying bricks.

Sunday, November 08, 2009


National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo (pronounced nay-no-rye-moe) is taking place right now! November 1st through November 30th finds over 100,000 people frantically trying to fill roughly 175 blank pages with 50,000 words. I am one of them.

I decided to write a book. Several of you have been fearless in your encouragement of this endeavor, and I appreciate your sentiments. I am still very unsure of how this will play itself out, but for better or worse I am committed to writing 50,000 words over the coarse of 30 days. The basic rules are as follows:

-No writing can take place outside of 11/1 to 11/30 except plot outlines, or character sketches. I chose to do away with this acceptable medium of novel insurance, and simply jumped in with both feet last Sunday night.

-The book has to be an original piece of fiction, and can not be a left-over project from a previously unsuccessful NaNoWriMo year. Since this is my first year participating in NaNoWriMo, and certainly my first attempt at writing a book, this rule doesn't apply to me. However, should my grasp of sanity prove too tenuous I have a lovely piece of plagiarism I am prepared to enter under my own name. Did I just write that out loud?

-The book must include 50,000 words (per the official NaNoWriMo word counter) by midnight, local time, November 30th. It can not be the same word written 50,000 times. I checked. So far I have 14,720, but I am fairly certain only 7 of them will last past the first edit.

The last point NaNoWriMo makes is that this project is purposely about the pursuit of the Frantic Novel. In order to complete a novel of this length, in this amount of time, you can't expect perfection. In fact, quite frankly, you can't really expect much at all - except a high word count. So don't think you are getting a copy of my Newberry Medal earning novel on December 1st. However, I have decided to take the book, when complete, through an editing process and see if anything sticks.

So, wish me well! You may send sustenance to my family, since they will be without a mother/ cooker/ nurse/ laundress/ wife/ home manager/ maid for the remaining 3 weeks.


Phoebe did the oh-so-cute sneeze with a little hiccup yesterday morning. As most babies her age can testify, it is hard business, and requires at least a teaspoon full of milky spit-up to complete satisfactorily. Mary watched her then announced:

Watch out, Mama! Phoebe bless-up'ed.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Gift

Every human is given a gift. That gift can either be hoarded, or in turn given away. Ironically the gift is best used when we take something ourselves. What is it?

Personal Responsibility.

When we choose to take responsibility for our actions, our mistakes, our children, our misfortunes, our decisions, our consequences, ultimately our life we give a rare gift. Indeed, it is becoming rarer in our day and age. Our personal responsibility frees our family members, coworkers, friends, colleagues, fellow human beings to live their lives without the suffocating burden of our lives. After all, each person is given only their own life to live for good reason. To try and live the lives of others is not fair to them - or us. We simply are not designed to carry the load of multiple people. However, it is evident that many do not recognize, or understand this rather simple fact. Even scarier than the lack of recognition is the blatant deception people chose to engage in to convince themselves they are not really the ones responsible for their own messes. I am surrounded by examples, and when looked at through the simplicity of a 3 year old the concept doesn't require a master's degree to grasp. Shall we?

Mary makes a mess of Polly Pocket. Mary decides she wants to play something else. It will take Mary several minutes to clean up her mess, which is not an immediately appealing reality. Mary recognizes she is not capable of stowing the container of Polly Pocket because the shelf is higher than she is tall. Mary illogically concludes that the restraints on her ability to accomplish the final aspect of the clean-up clears her of all responsibility to take care of the mess. Mary leaves the room to get herself a new toy, blaming Leah for the mess since she happened to play with Mary for 3 minutes during the time Mary had out all the Polly Pocket.

This example seems so obvious, does it not? Mary clearly has responsibility to clean up the Polly Pocket as best she can, and then take the initiative to ask for help in the small step of putting the container away. But what appears clearly in this scenario somehow gets lost in translation with only a minor adjustment of content.

Mary makes a mess of her finances. Mary decides she wants to purchase something else. It will take Mary several months to clean up her mess, which is not an immediately appealing reality. Mary recognizes she is not capable of immediately paying off the debt because the debt is greater than she is rich. Mary illogically concludes that the restraints on her ability to immediately pay off the debt clears her of all responsibility to take care of the mess. Mary files bankruptcy, and then complains of how high the credit card companies charge on interest.

Here we see Mary doing the exact same thing as when she played with her Polly Pocket! Mary should do whatever she can to rid herself of the debt she herself made. She could ask for help from debt consolidation, or credit counseling if the task was too great for her to handle independently, but her choices in spending are for her to pay - not someone else. This same concept works towards parents with children, and the responsibility often laid at the feet of the local public school to raise our children with social and moral values. I want to train my children that it is not nearly as much the other person's fault as our fallen nature would have us believe. Ultimately, the choices we make in spending time reading, playing on the computer, or watching television correlate directly with the loss of time to spend managing commitments, fulfilling obligations, and finishes projects. Trust me, no one forces me to play on facebook. Equally, it is no one's job to force me to responsibly manage my grocery shopping so my children have dinner.

I want to be ever vigilant in giving away the gift of personal responsibility - choosing to free others from the burden of my life's choices.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Once Upon An eBay

Once upon a time a young girl was wed. She received many gifts, but none satisfied her heart as much as the beautiful calla lily vase, not even originally purposed for her. Alas, as careful as she was she didn't see the evil witch, and with a single wave of her pointed finger the powerful sorceress smashed the girl's lovely vase. Heartbroken, the young girl vowed to fix the vase, but it seemed hopeless until... eBay.

Perhaps you think the story above must be part of a child's fairy tale, but I promise it is nothing short of the truth! Read, and judge for yourself.

I was married in 1997. Among the many generous gifts given to me and my husband was a Lenox Woodland vase. I will apologize now if this happens to be the starring piece in your collection, but it looked like a head of Romaine lettuce to me. I was genuinely disappointed because I thought it very sophisticated to have my own Lenox vase. After all, Lenox is something you have when you are an adult! But this vase was... ugly. I reluctantly took it back to Macy's, thinking perhaps I could exchange it for more of my dishes, but when I walked into the store I saw the most beautiful vase sitting alone on a small table. The calla lily vase was on sale, marked down because it was discontinued. I couldn't believe my eyes! The charming sculpture was especially touching to me because the calla lily was our wedding's theme, playing a role in our invitations, cake server, and the champaign flutes we gave to each of our guests. It remains my favorite flower. Needless to say, I lost no time exchanging my small, porcelain head of lettuce for the last of my calla lily vases Macy's would ever carry.

I spent the next few years displaying my vase with pride. One day, after a display of flowers had faded, I sat the vase on my counter next to my sink. I needed to wash it, but before I could get to it Hannah, only a small child at the time, was hungry for bananas. Taking a banana from its bunch I began to tug, noting to myself the precarious position my elbow held with the vase. The bananas, not quite ripe, were refusing to give up their most prized member. Determined to outwit the yellow fruit I gave it one last strong yank, releasing it from its bunch while simultaneously watching in slow-motion horror as my elbow made contact with the vase. It fell neatly onto its side and immediately broke on the tile counter.

I literally cried.

I was sick with myself for being so prideful. Had I simply heeded that small voice of caution, and placed the vase safely away from my elbow it would not have broken. I gently carried the pieces to my table, determined to salvage what I could. Using a tube of glue, patience, and a few more tears I managed to piece the vase back together enough for display - though it certainly was no longer water tight. Later that night I thought about checking into replacing the vase altogether, but the vase's discontinued state made it impossible to find on any website.

Over the following years I kept the vase for show, saddened each time I received a bouquet and was unable to use it properly. I didn't realize that as the years passed the glue I used for the original repair was slowly drying out, losing its bond, until one fateful day, about 3 year ago, my eldest daughter inadvertently knocked it over and the vase re-broke along the original break lines. Once again my beautiful vase was lying in pieces. I had continued checking websites, replacement catalogs, and even eBay in an attempt to find my vase but never saw anything even remotely like it. I couldn't even find the official Lenox name for the design! But I thought I might be in better shape to repair the vase this time, as I had recently learned of a woman who did museum quality repair work on ceramics. She was an artist herself, and owned a small studio with her own kiln. The vase's shards fit perfectly together, creating nearly invisible seams. I just knew that in the hands of a professional my vase could finally come back to life!

Boy, was I wrong.

I was almost as disappointed with her repair as when the vase was originally broken. The workmanship was shoddy, and while the inside looked neater than when I had glued it the outside carried long jagged scars. I could no longer hide its brokenness. However, I remained unwilling to get rid of it. I loyally placed it back in the center of my shelf, and grew more determined to someday find a thoroughly acceptable solution.

Last week I unpacked the final box from moving over a year ago, and wrapped with lovingkindness inside was my calla lily vase. We don't have a single display cabinet in our new house, having lost several hundred square feet of living space in the move. So, I placed it in a seat of honor among my other breakables tucked carefully in an upper cabinet. In the process I reassessed the damage done by the restoration artist. It got me thinking, again, about my desire to see the vase fully restored but it also reminded me that nearly 10 years of searching had not even produced a specific title.

And then came today.

Relaxing on a lazy Saturday afternoon, the idea suddenly caught me to check out eBay. I occasionally like to see what auctions might be of interest. For instance Josiah, our ever wayward child, is slowly destroying all my wonderful Richard Scarry circa 1970 books. The new ones just aren't the same, having yielded to political correctness. After discovering a boxed set of my four favorites I was about to call it a day when I typed, as I have at least 3000 times before:

Lenox calla lily vase

The screen blanked as the results were being pulled. I knew what I would see once the page refreshed - 0 results with exact matches. There would also be the 72 results containing, "calla lily" in the description, which I would scroll through just to make sure someone hadn't inadvertently listed the vase without the manufacturer's name. It was always the same...

And then the screen blazed back with a single match showing. Immediately next to the title was a thumbnail picture of my vase. My vase! I froze, and simply stared at those beautiful pixels. Once my shock was overcome I could hardly get to the listing fast enough. I scanned the listing, noting the price (acceptable - even reasonable), condition (new in the box), shipping charges (appropriate), seller's rating (great), auction time (1 day left of a 14 day list), number of bids... number of bids? I stopped. There were no bids. The auction was listed as a, "Buy Now" or bid sale. I practically shouted to Christopher, sitting a mere 7 feet away from me, "Can you believe this?" I clicked, "Buy Now," hurriedly finished the transaction, and practically hyperventilated waiting for my confirmation email to arrive!

UPS better drive fast.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Cracked... or... Not Cracked

I remember the first time I heard my children saying this over and over and over again.


Or not cracked?


Or not cracked?

It started between Bethany and Hannah, but within a few moments there was a chorus of, "cracked, or not cracked?" floating out of my dining room. My curiosity got the best of me, and I poked my head around the kitchen wall to see what was cracked... or not cracked.

Graham crackers.

My kids were taking turns trying to fool their siblings by making them guess if the graham cracker they held in their hand was whole, or had been broken and then pressed back together to appear complete. At first I thought the game would lose its charm rather quickly, and doubted the ability of Mary or Leah to truly participate. Oh my, was I wrong! Some 7 months later I will still hear these words echoing out of the dining room any time I serve graham crackers - and all the children just love it!

Go figure.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009


I have learned an important - albeit occasionally difficult - life lesson: apologize to my children. I mean really sincerely admitting when I have blown it, and going to them in the same way I go to my spouse, friends, or other family members. Treating my children with the respect, and dignity I expect from my peers helps build a foundation for healthy adult relationships in my children's lives. And it ensures that I remain humble, recognizing that while I am an authority over my little people I am still under authority myself.

I distinctly remember the first time I asked for forgiveness from Hannah. She was little more than 2, and I had lost my temper over a minor infraction. Rather than calmly managing the situation I flew off the handle, yelling inappropriately. Now, Hannah needed to have her disobedience addressed, and this was the point that caught me! If I apologized, telling her it had been wrong for me to act out the way I had would I be, in essence, stating that she had done nothing wrong? And if I repented how could I move forward with any further discipline? These questions had me stumped, but I knew that I had acted poorly towards her, and that if I didn't step forward and acknowledge the ways I was wrong I would continue to justify reasons to slide out of personal responsibility. Once down that road it can be terribly difficult to retrace your steps!

Since that first time it has become so much easier to recognize my faults to the children. After all, it isn't like they aren't keenly aware of the ways I mess up. The least I can do is not add, "carries a double standard" to the list! I knew that it was the right thing to do, but what I wasn't expecting was the freedom that comes from genuinely repenting to my children for the ways I walk in sin against them. It is such a relief to tell them that I was wrong, that I am not perfect, and that I don't have all the answers. The other side benefit to honoring my children through repentance is the practice it gives my children in forgiving. Besides the work they must do in learning to forgive one another, learning to forgive me (who generally trespasses against them in "justice" issues, which are far different from "relational" issues often present in their interactions with their siblings) provides them with important skills for a healthy adulthood. Learning to engage in reconciliation with a sibling is essential for healthy peer relationships; but learning to forgive a parent will carry over into their ability to rightly associate with all authorities placed in their life. That's pretty important!

However, of all the reasons (and beneficial results) listed above for seeking the forgiveness of my children the most vital pertains to the connection my parenting has with the Divine. Our God never sins against us. He never makes a mistake. He never has anything but our absolute best in store for us. Parents represent the first image of a caring, provider God to their children. I am sure we can all remember the time when our parents were, quite literally, perfect! If they said we were wrong, then you can be sure we were wrong. Period. How dangerous to not clarify the truth. And then again, when we realized our parents were fallible, but continued to act in a manner suggesting they were always right, how dangerous to not clarify the truth. Both of these realities can be fodder for a broken relationship with Christ.

So, I continue to apologize, acknowledge my sin, and repent to my children. They are wonderful in their responsiveness. And they receive the opportunity to taste the grace given to the forgiver towards the forgiven. I highly recommend it for everyone.

Thursday, October 01, 2009


I have been remiss. I am so sorry to all my blog readers for deserting you these past weeks! I have missed writing, and it appears that some have missed reading. So what possible excuse do I have for my altogether abrupt leave of absence?


Yes, it really is that simple. No under or overstatements necessary. Occasionally I do have to actually live with all seven of my children, and as much as I enjoy coming up with unique and catchy posts the truth is that my priority is in my home, with my family, and off the computer. This is hard for me to accept. I look at other writers who are prolific in their number of entries, details, pictures, blah blah blah... and I wonder what on earth is wrong with me. Why can't I manage to write something every day?

It certainly isn't a result of too little food for thought. Only yesterday I had a conversation with my son about praying for dead people - and why we don't. My backyard has undergone a monumental landscaping overhaul which came to completion only this past week. I went on my first ever personal retreat, and loved it! And of course peppered onto all of this are the many overheard comments, witnessed moments, and general happenings of my family. Lots has transpired since last we chatted. I promise to work on bringing much of it to you through the next few weeks.

As to what the future holds, I can't promise that another unexplained hiatus will never occur. That whole, "priorities" thing keeps rearing its head, beckoning me to take advantage of the here and now before it is then and gone.

Thanks for traveling the road with me.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009


Phoebe began turning from tummy to back a couple of days ago! I can hardly believe she is big enough to have these milestones already marked in her baby book - or at least they could be marked in her baby book if I actually got her baby book out and marked them! The point is, Phoebe is growing, changing, moving through her little world of discoveries with each new first just around the bend. I adore watching my children grow. It is easy to see the changes of little people when they are very young. One day an infant suddenly flips over, sees the world from a whole new vantage point, and breaks into a grin. But my older ones are changing with no less mind-boggling rapidity. Everything from the sudden realization of fingers to the conscious recognition that delayed gratification isn't a monster, my children keep me humble as they pursue life with a passion.

Hannah is starting 5th grade! Since when did I become the mother of a nearly 11 year old daughter? Her sense of style and personality are blossoming, as more and and more she discovers ways to express herself through choice of wardrobe and accessory. She has gained so much perspective in the last year, and continues to work tirelessly alongside of me with all the other little ones. Hannah is growing in selflessness, and love for her siblings, and respect for her parents. She sacrificially owns her position as eldest in our big family.

Bethany is barely containing her joy at beginning the 3rd grade. This is mostly due to the fact that I do not assign rigid academics until this grade level. I strongly recommend, and practice a school of thought called, "Delayed Academics," which is an entire post in itself! I mention it only to give background for why this school year, in particular, has Bethany fired up, because she now has real assignments, with real homework, and real lessons! She is growing into her academics with real enthusiasm. Where once she did not care much for prolonged reading, now she constantly steals opportunities with her current book. The written word has begun to open its treasure chest of booty for her. Bethany is growing in enjoyment of academic study.

Caleb never stops growing. He daily mounts an attack against the civilized world, daring it to surrender its finest discoveries. Most recently the new frontier is Legos, and the magically limitless combination of ways you can build all manner of war-making machines with these gems. I remember when Duplo blocks hardly held his attention, with the fine motor skills required to fit the pieces together nowhere near engaging enough for his interest. Now most afternoons find him parked in front of a sprawling expanse of tiny blocks, working to engage just the right torque on some lever as to render the Lego villain headless.

Leah is growing through some tough spots. She fell back to needing her thumb-guards, stubbornly holding onto the habit of sucking her thumb at night. And while she cries just about every time we remind her of their necessity other areas have seen huge improvements in her maturity. I never thought I would be able to allow her freedom away from the strict confines of our house for fear that her natural curiosity, and total lack of impulse control would carry her to Neverland before I could stop her. I am happy to report that she can be trusted (mostly) in the front yard, and knows the distance between Miss Voula's and Miss Pee's house is fair game for running amuck.

Mary is no longer, "babyish." This is her word! Shortly after turning three she wanted to know when she would be old enough to turn four. I answered that she had to grow for an entire year. She took this to heart, and each day reminds me that she is, "not babyish today. I can be four soon!" It breaks my heart on some days to think of my Mary Ellen as a four year old. I know it will come too soon. In the meantime I am enjoying all her wonderful 3 year old-ness! I love this age, when all things adult are mimicked with no end to the comedy. I nurse Phoebe, she nurses her doll. I cook dinner, she creates plastic culinary art. I grab my purse to run an errand, she struts around the living room, sans clothes, carrying her prized Coach.

Josiah has transformed from my chubby baby boy to a full-blown toddler overnight. Running through my house, terrorizing all of us, Josiah fears nothing. Or almost nothing. Josiah is learning the rules! I didn't think it was possible, but this blazing ball of energy has actually begun to take seriously our voice commands for ceasing and desisting many activities. He no longer runs away at breakneck speeds when confronted with impending discipline, either. His language development continues to refine itself, and I am positive we may yet receive intelligible communication from him! Until then his positively dashing good looks will easily keep him in my good graces.

Yes, each of these magnificent human beings is changing, growing every day. They remind me that life is not dull, fixed, or boring but something to be experienced afresh each new morning. Time changes me, and I grow through the years right along with my children. I am so glad for their lives, and the way God's grace sovereignly chose to place their soul in my heart.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Tuesday's Tip


I live in a home with all hardwood floors so vacuuming, for me, is an absolute necessity - or at least it is if I don't want a sandbox in each child's bed, not to mention my own boudoir. But I have come to appreciate vacuuming in a far greater capacity, and the time I save is worthy of note in this, Tuesday's Tip.

I vacuum everything! Those special attachments that come with your machine are not just decorative items, but actually have design merit for specific purposes outside of whisking away trekked in dirt from your floors. Here is what I have found works at the end of my hose:

Small brush-lined nozzle - countertops, and tables. I no longer waste my time wiping up crumbs after meals... I vacuum them! Cleaning the table with a hot rag after the offending debris has been removed is so much easier than multiple trips to the garbage, washrag full of particulates.

Small brush - dusting, dusting, dusting. I vacuum end tables, bed moldings, baseboards, and even appliances rather than wiping, spraying, or paper towel-ing. The brush does a fairly decent job getting into intricate wood cuts, and I know I am not simply wiping around the dust.

Long skinny tube - my dryer's lint trap gets nicely cleaned with this treasure. It is also a gem for window and sliding door tracks.

Be creative with your Hoover, and you just might find a shortcut in your own cleaning routine.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Tuesday's Tip

We go through liquid hand soap at an alarming rate. I seem to have two options available: let my kids have dirty hands OR buy soap like it is going out of style. The first option is entirely unacceptable. The second is not much more appealing than the first. What's a thrift-minded mom of many to do?

Some of my more savvy counterparts would say, "Use bar soap. It is much more cost effective, minimizes waste, and does a great job to boot." They would be right, except that bar soap also adds the bonus of leaving nasty residue everywhere it sits. Gross.

Then I spied this little gem, and knew I had hit pay dirt. It uses a 1:4 ratio of liquid hand soap and water to create a soapy foam that kids love to use. I figured I could pick the dispenser up at Target or perhaps WalMart, but no such luck. However, what I did see surprised me! Apparently these large box stores have learned about this lovely device as well, and are now marketing their own super-diluted hand soap in foaming dispensers. Bingo.

I bought a container, used up the included soap in a little less than 20 minutes, and replaced it with my own solution. You can buy the foaming soap refills, but the cost is ridiculous for something you can simply make. Buying full strength liquid hand soap refills in the large quantities, diluting it with water, and using the special dispenser means I can have BOTH clean little hands, and pennies in my pocket! I love it.

Sunday, August 30, 2009


I cheated at dinner tonight. Christopher is out of town again, and I wasn't in the mood to try and wrestle a full-fledged meal from my pantry shelves. Instead I contrived something resembling sound nutrition using:

Kraft Mac and Cheese
Ball Park Turkey Franks
Ore-Ida Tater Tots

I will state for the record that not even this kid-inspired version of Nirvana made the 100% satisfied cut. Everyone had a combination of the above mentioned morsels, but no single eater ate all three. However, Caleb (who is allergic to dairy, and so was forced through genetic disqualification to partake in only 2/3 of the meal's delicacies) announced the following:

This is the BEST meal in my WHOLE life.

Why do I bother?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

non sequitur

We were sitting around the dinner table last night when I noticed two, clean slices in Mary's shirt. They corresponded exactly with the snips a pair of scissors would make. Both Leah and Mary share the shirt, marking the culprit as one of these two little people. I didn't bother addressing anyone else at the table, for obvious reasons.

Mary, did you cut your shirt?


Are you sure you didn't play with scissors today?

No, I didn't. Serious.
(This is her favorite additive to any statement, giving it instant merit regardless of its actual validity.)

Leah, did you cut this shirt with scissors?

Huh-uh. I didn't even do that at all!

Are you sure, Leah?

Yep, I am so sure! I did NOT touch it with scissors. No way.
(She excitedly swung her hands across her chest in the universal body language for: none, stop, no, I didn't do it, et al.)

Mary, are you sure you didn't use scissors to cut this shirt?

Serious. I didn't. Serious.

I looked between the girls, wondering which line of questioning I should travel next when Caleb decided to announce his own innocence in the debacle:

I have no revolve in this plate!

We are still unsure of exactly what expression he was trying to use, but it certainly got us laughing.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Schizophrenia, And Other Hair Maladies

I used to have beautiful, silky hair.

I spent hours, more money than I care to remember, and copious amounts of styling aid to have perfect, lovely hair. It was smooth, styled, and generally worn fashionably coiffed.

I also had no children - or very few.

I am now lucky if I manage to get the whole mess dry before something earth shattering interrupts me. By earth shattering I refer to the truly magnificent, like ill-gotten lego booty in Josiah's mouth.

As a result of this ongoing abuse my hair has developed several alarming conditions!

It hallucinates about the "good ole days", believing it can once again find that long lost luster if only the right conditioner were used.

Multiple Personality Disorder.
It has created at least 3 separate hair types: curly, straight and wiry; all on top of my single head. None of them communicates with the others, leaving each blissfully unaware that it occupies only 1/3 of my head at any given point.

Bipolar Disorder.
There are manic days, and then there are depressed days. I never know whether my hair will be one gigantic frizz ball, like I stuck my finger in the light socket all night, or hang, sallow and limp, without a breathe of volume.

Alzheimer's Disease.
My hair is progressively losing its identity to dementia. It doesn't remember whether it likes to: be up or down; use a certain conditioner from one day to the next; get curled with an iron or rollers; stay smooth through the night or freak out into cowlicks. And every new birth sends it over an edge further down the path of total insanity.

Obviously I could resolve one or two of these, but certainly not all of them! I have tried psychotropic leave in conditioners, shock treatment with diffusers, and group therapy with multiple styling products, but to no avail. I am afraid my hair has reached a point of no return.

Just one more thing to add to the list of, "Things they never tell you about having kids."

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Today, during our morning devotions we studied Proverbs chapter 2. Like much of the book of Proverbs this particular passage exhorts the reader to gain wisdom, seeking for it like silver or hidden treasure. I wanted to impress upon the children the value, and importance of applying themselves to gleaning biblical wisdom. At the end of our conversation I noticed that Leah was particularly animated in her response to my query about why wisdom was so important. I decided to ask her, specifically, why she believed wisdom was valuable.

Because wisdom is what keeps you from falling off the bird.

*keeping a straight face* And how does wisdom do that?

*without skipping a beat* Because wisdom is what keeps you from jumping out of the airplane onto the bird's back - which can't hold you and so it flies low - and then you fall off, and land on a pile of gold.

*here Caleb sighs before uttering the following* Oh, Leah! Gold's not real.

And so ended our theology lesson of the day.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

How Do You Do It?

People are constantly asking me, "How do you do it?" The question is usually posed after they learn about my large family. If it slipped by on that revelation the fact that I homeschool definitely gets it! The assumption is that home education must be so much more difficult than public or classical private education. I was recently reminded why this isn't true. Running around, picking this child up from here and dropping the other child over there, packing up younger siblings in order to drop older siblings at their appointments/camp, organizing fun with friends, and maintaining my regular household routines has plum tuckered me out this summer! I can't imagine trying to do it all with 8 hours of the day taken away for school.

The following is a cute anecdote using a slight twist to the ole, "How do you do it?" question. I thought it befitting.

Author Unknown

Two women meet at a playground, where their children are swinging and playing ball. The women are sitting on a bench watching. Eventually, they begin to talk.

W1: Hi. My name is Maggie. My kids are the three in red shirts –helps me keep track of them.

W2: (Smiles) I’m Patty. Mine are in the pink and yellow shirts. Do you come here a lot?

W1: Usually two or three times a week, after we go to the library.

W2: Wow! Where do you find the time?

W1: We homeschool, so we do it during the day most of the time.

W2: Some of my neighbors homeschool, but I send my kids to public school.

W1: How do you do it?

W2: It’s not easy. I go to all the PTA meetings, work with the kids every day after school, and stay really involved.

W1: But what about socialization? Aren’t you worried about them being cooped up all day with kids their own ages, never getting the opportunity for natural relationships?

W2: Well, yes. But I work hard to balance that. They have some friends who’re homeschooled, and we visit their grandparents almost every month.

W1: Sounds like you’re a very dedicated mom. But don’t you worry about all the opportunities they’re missing out on? I mean they’re so isolated from real life — how will they know what the world is like –what people do to make a living — how to get along with all different kinds of people?

W2: Oh, we discussed that at PTA, and we started a fund to bring real people into the classrooms. Last month we had a policeman and a doctor come in to talk to every class. And next month we’re having a woman from Japan and a man from Kenya come to speak.

W1: Oh, we met a man from Japan in the grocery store the other week, and he got to talking about his childhood in Tokyo. My kids were absolutely fascinated. We invited him to dinner and got to meet his wife and their three children.

W2: That’s nice. Hmm. Maybe we should plan some Japanese food for the lunchroom on Multicultural Day.

W1: Maybe your Japanese guest could eat with the children.

W2: Oh, no. She’s on a very tight schedule. She has two other schools to visit that day. It’s a systemwide thing we’re doing.

W1: Oh, I’m sorry. Well, maybe you’ll meet someone interesting in the grocery store sometime and you’ll end up having them over for dinner.

W2: I don’t think so. I never talk to people in the store –certainly not people who might not even speak my language. What if that Japanese man hadn’t spoken English?

W1: To tell you the truth, I never had time to think about it. Before I even saw him, my six-year-old had asked him what he was going to do with all the oranges he was buying.

W2: Your child talks to strangers?

W1: I was right there with him. He knows that as long as he’s with me, he can talk to anyone he wishes.

W2: But you’re developing dangerous habits in him. My children never talk to strangers.

W1: Not even when they’re with you?

W2: They’re never with me, except at home after school. So you see why it’s so important for them to understand that talking to strangers is a big no-no.

W1: Yes, I do. But if they were with you, they could get to meet interesting people and still be safe. They’d get a taste of the real world, in real settings. They’d also get a real feel for how to tell when a situation is dangerous or suspicious.

W2: They’ll get that in the third and fifth grades in their health courses.

W1: Well, I can tell you’re a very caring mom. Let me give you my number–if you ever want to talk, give me call. It was good to meet you.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Tuesday's Tip

I wish I could say I had time to sit in the card store browsing for hours to find the perfect one for each occasion requiring a note. I don't. I used to get frazzled waiting until the last second to grab a card before dashing to the post office/event madly signing the note while driving. There has to be a better way!

I made a card binder, and while I am still not the world's best note giver (A word about "love languages" - gifts are not mine *wink*. They rarely enter my radar screen for me, or others.) I have come a long way with this simple tool. Many companies merchandise this little gem, but you can save money and make one yourself. All you need are:

-3-ring binder
-12 plastic paper protector pockets (say that 10 times fast)
-12 paper dividers (I like the ones in bright colors - and most of them have templates that your computer's software program recognizes so you can print the categories neatly right onto the dividers)
-assorted cards you have stashed in a box

Decide for which events you tend to send cards. List them out, then made a divider for each category. A few of my categories are Birthday, Condolence, Get well, and Congratulation. Place one plastic pocket behind each divider. Sort your cards into each category, and place the cards into the pockets. Voila!

Now, when you are in a crunch you can grab a card for that birthday party. Or you can send the congratulatory note without adding another errand to the card store. And the next time you are at a store with cards and have a few minutes to kill you can pick up some cute ones knowing you have a home for them when you get back to your house.

Friday, July 31, 2009

World's Best Mexican Flan

Every good recipe has a story behind it. This one is no exception.

I craved flan while pregnant with Phoebe. Crème brûlée could tied me over, but in the back of my head that Mexican flan kept calling to me. Smooth, milky custard with that caramelized sugar coating. Yummy. The problem is that all the flan I could get my hands on was watery, lumpy, bland, and sorely lacking in caramelized sauce. And then I realized what the real problem was - I was craving my grandmother's flan.

That isn't a bad thing. Granny was recognized as our family's best cook. She went on to easily win the title from everyone else who ate her food. Granny loved to cook, and enjoyed trying out new recipes and combinations. Nothing intimidated her. But Granny died in 2005, leaving me quite helpless to get my hands on a piece of her flan. However, her recipes lived on, and I mentioned to my mom a few weeks ago about my desire to find this particular one. Jackpot! My aunt, who carries on the cooking legend, had it and was scheduled for a visit.

Auntie Gail, along with my mom, came over yesterday to keep me company. Gail offered to cook for me! She also told me she brought the recipe, and would make the flan for dessert! Mmmmm... the smells of pot roast bubbling on the stove, laughing with my mom and aunt as the two of them tried to work together... in a kitchen... that wasn't theirs... created a wonderful afternoon. Then it was time to fix the flan.


My aunt was tenderly caring for the sugar that had to be caramelized in a cast iron pot. No exceptions on the pot. She explained that Granny learned it was the best place to manage the process. So while she stirred and stirred my mom and I were left to put together the custard. We were laughing so hard at my mom's effort to use my can opener that when we finally got around to combining the ingredients we just started dumping everything in sight. Oops. The first can of evaporated milk was fine, but that second was not.

Gail suddenly looked up. "Did you just put both cans in?" We had. And as Murphy's Law would have it we put them in over the 4 eggs, 2 egg yolks, and one can of sweetened condensed milk. The recipe was ruined, as would the mashed potatoes be if we didn't replace their can of evaporated milk. Thankfully my mom already knew she needed to run to the store for bacon (Gail's bacon, onion, and brown sugar green beans were also on the menu). Off she flew, and returned with the replacement cans of milk. We had, fortunately, saved the whipping cream from loss having caught the mistake before adding it.


I was nursing Phoebe when my mom returned, but had already diligently prepared the eggs for round two. Gail was left to manage the blender. How hard is it to manage a blender? Don't answer that. All the ingredients were combined into a smooth batter when Gail turned my blender carafe in an effort to release it from the base. The problem is that my carafe doesn't lock onto my base with a turn, it simply sits over the motor. Turning it disassembles the sealing disk from the bottom of the container, and before we knew what happened Gail let out a yelp as custard batter poured from the hole in the bottom of the pitcher. Back to the store -after we cleaned up the gooey mess oozing all over the counter and floor.


Again, I carefully prepared the eggs, adding the vanilla so when the cans of milk (along with the carton of heavy whipping cream) arrived we could get right to work. The caramelized sugar coated bowl sat near by, in case the kids tried to ruin, err, touch it again. I was in charge of the blender, so that any mishaps would be directly my fault, rather than just implied. We nearly lost the brew in another blender debacle. The flan has to bake in a water bath, which nearly became a water deluge. And Leah, who scrutinized every stage of production was particularly underfoot when we went to put the whole thing into the oven. My analog clock is breaking, and won't keep an accurate time so half way through baking I realized Gail was using it interchangeably with the digital clock. For a panicked second we thought we lost the whole kit and caboodle due to improper time management. But in the end it came out alive!


We waited until all the kids were in bed before serving out the flan. Gail, as Granny would do, was stubbornly objective in her self-critique. The sugar and custard could have cooked for 5 minutes less, was the consensus. Hey, if that's the ONLY thing you can come up with after our experience then I think congratulations are in order. I found it to be delectable, smooth, rich and creamy. It only took a year, and my daughter was already 3 months old, but I finally got my piece of flan.

Here is the recipe in case you too decide that only flan will do.

Old Fashioned Flan by Olive Hyler
-1 cup white sugar heated in a cast iron skillet until melted - stirring constantly. Pour into a 2qt round glass baking dish, tilting to coat bottom and sides. Set aside on a hot pad so you don't crack the glass.

Place the following in a blender, and process (not whip) thoroughly
-14 oz can sweet condensed milk
-5 oz can evaporated milk
-1 cup whipping cream
-4 eggs
-2 egg yolks
-1/2 tsp vanilla

Pour into bowl with caramelized sugar. Place bowl into a hot water bath, making sure water level comes at least 3/4 of the way up the bowl. Bake in preheated oven at 325 for 1 and 1/2 hours. If the top is browning to quickly you can cover it with foil (probably not necessary). Remove from oven and bath to allow to cool. When ready to serve loosen the caramel from the sides of the pan with a knife, then place a flat dish over the top, and flip the bowl upside down to release the flan. Pour the excess sauce over the top. Extra can be covered and refrigerated for a delicious treat the following day!


Christopher has left the building.

My husband is an introvert. This may come as a surprise to some of you who know him. Let me assure you; he does not like groups, he is very uncomfortable chatting with strangers, and social interactions cost him a lot in emotional and spiritual energy. Nope, he would rather a quiet, intimate conversation which happens to pepper large stretches of solitude.

We have seven children.

He married an extrovert (reread everything above, but reverse it).

You can imagine how often he gets quiet, intimate conversations peppering his large stretches of solitude. Ha!

So he left. Actually he took time to enjoy one of his favorite pastimes - hiking. This week he is off to Inyo National Forest to climb 3 mountains, all of them highest points in their respective counties. It gives him time alone. He needs it! He comes home exhausted, bone weary and blistered, and even a little lonely. But he is also refreshed, more capable of enjoying and appreciating our family, and reconnected with God in a way that 20 feet above sea level fails to do.

I get to stay home with the kids. 20 feet above sea level is just fine for me.

But the alone time is good for me, too. I enjoy the quiet nights, the bed to myself, the dinner "cheats." I often find a project that requires concentrated focus, and throw myself into: repainting a section of the house; organizing that black hole in the laundry room; building some piece of furniture; or simply getting into a mad panic of spring cleaning. His being gone forces me to take on some of these more solitary tasks, because when he is home I would much rather be hanging out chatting than sticking my head in a bucket of ammonia all day.

I thought about what my Alone Project would be this time. I considered a major overhaul of our garage, but that requires the purchase of several shelving units, and we are really trying to cut down on expenses as we prepare for our backyard landscaping. There are still some smaller paint jobs left, however I am thoroughly uninspired for colors, and if I force myself to pick something I know I will end up with wasabi green and mustard yellow stripes distress painted across my hardwood floor. Yikes! I could list so many more "little things" that ought to get my attention, but I decided that my project this time was spending time with my kids.

I am working to really invest, emotionally, in my kids. It is so much easier for me to take care of their physical needs than their emotional ones. So, my Alone Project is to make a priority of hanging out with them. So far I have done puzzles with Leah, listened to 3 of the LONGEST dream sequences I think possible by Bethany, and appreciated a few of Caleb's new tricks on his skateboard. Tomorrow I am taking just Leah shopping with her birthday money. Josiah is getting extra hugs, and stories from me throughout each day. Mary got her hair cut today, and I used a blow-dryer when I was done to make it "fluffy." Finally, I am reading a book that Hannah just finished so we can talk about it when I am done.

I think this year's Alone Project is my best, yet.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

A Successful Failure

A successful failure.

NASA coined this phrase for the attempted Apollo 13 lunar mission, which fell woefully short of its original purpose, while still managing to bring the men back to earth safely. I find it particularly apropos for our beach excursion this afternoon. We fell miserably short of the expected outcome, but are home - alive.

Let me begin by stating that this particular season of life has grown difficult of late. Most families have small children for only a few years before moving on to independence. Our family is, 10+ years later, still knee deep in diapers, toddlers, nursings, and children who are in need of constant adult supervision. And don't forget, this isn't punctuated with years of respite due to large splits between siblings. 7 children in 10 years doesn't make for much rest! The hardest part is the desire to, "go and do," with our older children. But making that a reality while still managing, successfully, the needs of the younger children takes more than a little planning. And even then, as today will show, sometimes it simply doesn't work.

Pacific Grove has a wonderful tradition called, The Feast of Lanterns. The last Saturday of July sees the beach in PG loaded with people, entertainers, venders, and pageantry celebrating this 100+ year old custom (why they chose July, when our peninsula is notorious for cold, foggy, dreary days and even colder, foggier and drearier nights is beyond me - but they didn't think it suitable to ask my opinion, so on we go). My family is very connected with the Feast, and its continued success; currently my mom sits on the Board of Directors. We do not usually attend the event because a mere three weeks earlier sees us establishing a beachhead in Monterey, taking in the sun and surf with several other families for July 4th. However, Monterey cancelled fireworks this year, so our children were desperate for a beach experience. Had we discovered the answer key to this test sooner, we would have learned that the two are not interchangeable.

Our first mistake occurred before the actual day even dawned! Hannah and Bethany were invited to be a part of the processional parade for the night's crowning event on the pier. Rehearsal was set for 9am Saturday morning, which created a time-management nightmare. The sensible thing seemed obvious, and we gladly shipped the older girls off to my mom's house for the night. Because of her responsibilities with the event her presence was required first thing in the morning anyway; and she lives just a few minutes from Lover's Point, whereas we are some 10 miles away. What we didn't consider was the loss of my helpers the following morning, when I would need to pack 5 children, 6 years old and younger, along with all the supplies for a day of merry-making into the van, and haul everything to the beach by myself. Christopher was already at the beach, having arrived there before 8am in order to secure a patch of sand for us. I reminded myself that we did this same routine each July 4th, and once I arrived safely at our destination everything always came together. Surely the same would be true for today.


So many things were different. Ironically the parking was a thousand times easier, the amenities at the beach far superior, vendors and food options more varied. Unfortunately these things paled when compared to our claustrophobic postage stamp sized plot, and the loss of other families to help in the supervision of our small children. The event touted live entertainment, which we found to be an obnoxiously loud, and unescapable drone. But, we were determined to make the best of it! With Phoebe screaming, and Josiah running amuck, Christopher dutifully slathered each child with sunscreen to prepare for fun in the "sun". During this ritual mistake number two came to light when we realized that Caleb's bathing suit was not packed. I foolishly told him that he could wade in the water with his jeans rolled up like shorts. After all it was cold, and even drizzly. How likely was it that Caleb would actually get in the water? Question: Do I have any sense?

30 minutes later saw Hannah (who chose to forego waiting on me with her bathing suit before dashing into the water in her jeans) scampering off with Josiah; Bethany grabbing Leah and Mary for an introduction to the waves; and Caleb running full throttle towards the surf. I sat down to try and nurse Phoebe, and take at least 3 deep breaths before planning lunch from the supplies I purchased just that morning. Mistake number three wasn't anything we had control over, but when fate is already against you then even the unrelated seems cosmically your fault.

We had our backs against a 5 foot high retaining wall, created to provide a large landing in the staircase down to the beach. Christopher was the first to notice water spilling over the wall some 6 feet to our left. We looked at the campers up on the landing, to see if perhaps one of them had tipped over a gallon or two of water. What we saw was a 3 inch wide pvc drain spout at the base of a service closet set into a higher retaining wall where the staircase actually began its descent. It was gushing water... and showed no signs of stopping.

The first few minutes gave us a slight chuckle. People had created a patchwork quilt out of the beach by 2pm Friday afternoon. Even at 1pm on Saturday most of these individual placemats were still unoccupied. The idea of someone showing up, over 24 hours later, to find their blanket soaking wet caught at us. They had cheated the game, even though the rules were in their favor - sometimes the rules are wrong. But this pause only lasted a short spell, as the water continued to fill every indentation of the sand, and creep ever closer to our towels. Christopher began digging a channel down the beach towards the sea. The water kept coming. Soon others further down began frantically pulling their blankets and chairs to the side, joining Christopher to train the water away from their belongings. We continued our own struggle to keep the water at bay, but even with the impromptu help of a friendly onlooker our already tiny beachhead shrank.

Just about the time Public Works showed up, opening the closet and unleashing a heretofore damned flood, Leah came back to camp carried by a total stranger. She was drenched from head to toe. The kind woman, wearing jeans and a tshirt, was soaked from her neck down. Leah had somehow divested herself of Bethany, and waded into the ocean alone. The woman had saved her from drowning! Crying, shivering, and scared Leah wanted nothing more than to cuddle with me, but I was still trying to nurse Phoebe, who wasn't taking to the great outdoors as a suitable cafe. Wrapping a towel around her we scanned the horizon to make sure all other Randalls were safe.

Caleb was frolicking in the waves, soaked in his jeans.

Hannah was holding Josiah, and taking him into the water in her jeans.

Mary was standing a little too close to the surf for our comfort.

And Bethany... where was Bethany?

Christopher spotted her on a rock outcropping, stranded because of the rising tide, and panicking. Her fear translated to instant action, and my husband immediately threw himself, chest deep, into the water to rescue her. After saving her, and another little girl, he returned to our spot just as Public Works shut off the water. Dripping wet and fully clothed down to his leather work boots (his crocs were still in his backpack) he reached into his pocket with a sinking expression on his face, and pulled out his brand new cell phone. Mistake number... who knows: Jumping into water with your cell phone.

We made the decision to go home. But, like Apollo 13, deciding to go home, and actually getting there are two different things.

Packing everything up in soaking wet clothes is almost as fun as packing everything up only an hour after unpacking. We got the joy of both! Christopher couldn't find where I parked the van, and wandered along Ocean View Blvd. nearly a half-mile, wet, barefoot and against traffic before realizing it. We almost lost Bethany's fleece jacket, causing us to wade through all the clothes four times. Once the younger kids were in the van Leah split a brand-new bag of oyster crackers in half, spilling the entire contents on the floor, and causing Josiah to wail in frustration over his lost snack. Phoebe began crying for the meal she refused while at the beach. We had to move the van from our loading position half way through the job in order to let a city vehicle pass. Christopher inadvertently ripped off a piece of edging for the glove compartment when I dropped him at his car, and a bottle of water, which was not closed properly, leaked out during our ride home. Our last mistake was forgetting the camera, so there are no pictures of our two-hour adventure.

So, where was the success? Is it that we made it home, with everyone alive? That's part of it, for sure! I can tell you now that it was no small feat to maneuver the obstacle course of packing, loading, managing, and ultimately driving 5 of our 7 children home, while also making sure that the two children remaining had enough clothing, money, and instruction to last another 8 hours at the beach. However, I think the greater success was in the realization that we weren't really fighting against the cosmos. Satan wants to steal our joy at every turn! No, I don't think it was a mistake for us to choose home, rather than fighting it out on Lover's Point. Too many factors came together to create an impossible-to-deal-with-and-have-fun environment that badly needed curtailing. Leaving was the sensible solution. But then to be faced with the drama that occurred only after that decision was made brought us to the edge of ourselves. Here was where the real success happened. Sitting in the van before driving home we prayed, recognizing the desire to lose our patience, and give in to the mounting frustration. And again, after arriving home, reminding ourselves that the only things lost were time, money, and convenience. Nothing we couldn't live without.

A successful failure. Yes, indeed.

non sequitur

I posted under this title before. However, when you live in a house brimming full of illiterate miniature people non sequiturs are par for the course. So, I decided to make this a permanent fixture on Letters. These classics are from Leah while eating chicken noodle soup this afternoon.

Wow, this is so good I wish we had smaller bowls!

This juice is so good I can't even taste it! If you can't taste it then you have taste buds on your tongue.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Rambo Pets

I know I have mentioned before the vast difference between girl play and boy play, but I heard the following pass between my daughters and son, which was worthy of note.

Location: Playroom interior scattered with Littlest Pet Shop and Legos
Time: Afternoon
Players: Leah, Mary, Caleb

Mary: Leah, come to my beauty shop. It is soooo pretty.

Leah: Oh, Mary! My hair needs to be brushed.

Mary: Okay, pretend my hair is already done, and I have a ribbon.

Leah: Your pet is so beautiful, Mary. That ribbon looks beautiful.

Mary: Thanks (tossing her Littlest Pet Shop pet's plastic hair).

Caleb: Then pretend that the ribbon turns into a sword! And then a dragon comes to eat you, and I have to kill the dragon. (He begins to slaughter the make-believe dragon with a Lego Knight, hacking the Littlest Pet Shop pets while he is at it.)

Mary: NOOOOO! Caleb, my ribbon is beautiful! I don't need a dragon.

Leah: CALEB! We're getting our hair done.

Caleb: Yeah, but you are going to fall into a boiling pot of army bullets and die, and I have to grab you with my axe so that I can kill the dragon. (Again, he proceeds to slam the girls' pets with his Lego man, slashing wildly at the air.)

Leah: Caleb, I already got saved from the bullets. I'm getting my hair done.

Mary: My ribbon saved me from the dragon.

Caleb continued the good fight for several more minutes before finally realizing that hairspray and ribbons can defeat anything.